My usual approach to this blog is to collect a lot of images with something in common, and then thread them together — often with plenty of meandering into by-paths….
I ended up with so many images of 1917 hair styles for European-American women that I’m having trouble dividing them into several posts.
One stream has to do with the remarkable height of some 1917 hairstyles. [And hats.]
Another has to do with bobbed hair — pre-1920’s — popularized by dancer Irene Castle and necessitated in Europe by women’s war work in munitions factories. (The U.S. was a late-comer to WW I, so American women didn’t need to adopt shorter hairstyles for safety until 1917.)
A third idea I’m wrestling with is the gradual steps toward the bob — from a “fringe” (bangs) in the 1880’s to cutting some of the front hair short (1917) while retaining long hair in back. I suspect that most women took this conservative approach, making the change in increments.
And then I have some ads for products related to hair styles….
A Digression About Hair Combings and Rats
One item often included in an early 20th century Vanity set — or dresser set — was a hair receiver.
It was a jar with a hole in the lid, into which women put their “combings.”
That is, when women cleaned hair out of their brushes and combs, they put it into the hair receiver, and, when they had collected enough, they made it into a “rat,” encasing it in a hairnet that matched their hair color and then combing their long hair over the rat to create huge turn-of-the-century hairstyles like those illustrated by Charles Dana Gibson. The huge hairdos of the 1940’s used them too.
Those Tall 1917 Hair Styles
A similar conical style, called the “beehive,” was popular in the 1960s:
“The higher the hair, the closer to Heaven” was a popular saying when “bouffant” hairdos were in fashion. We supported these styles by “ratting” our hair (see “rats,” above). Hairdressers called it “back-combing,” but we always called it “ratting.” You took a strand of hair, pulled it up toward the sky, and, with your other hand, repeatedly ran a comb down it toward your scalp. Any loose hairs were pushed into tangles at the base. Spray with “Aquanette.” Repeat. When your ratted hair was a complete, tangled mess, you carefully brushed the outer layer smooth and sealed it with a final layer of hairspray. I remember a classmate who had a conical “beehive” hairdo done before a prom. By carefully wrapping it in a scarf at night, she preserved it for several days. It gradually deflated, though, so by Friday, her light brown beehive looked like she had a cow patty on her head….
High Hair, 1917
Back in 1917, you could also use Silmarine to set your hair — it probably increased volume, too.
The Sew Historically website has an extensive set of recipes for shampoos and for Bandoline, the 19th century predecessor to hair spray. In 1917, you could wear an invisible hairnet:
Did any ordinary women get their hair to look like this? Yes.
Not all hairdos were tall enough to “add a cubit to your height.”The next photo contains a mysterious reference to eating “bread crusts to make your hair curl.”
Are they real, or did she buy them?
Gradually Working Your Way Toward Bobbed Hair
In the 1920’s the bun was eliminated:
Short Hair on Women Marked a Social Change
A woman’s long hair was said to be “her crowning glory.” In Victorian times, cropped hair was often a sign that a woman had suffered a severe illness (as in Conan Doyle’s story, “The Copper Beeches.“)
Men saw long hair paradoxically, as both sexy and innocent: young girls wore their hair loose and long, and young ladies “put up their hair” around sixteen, as a sign that they were now adults — and ready for marriage.
Cutting it all short at one time — like Irene Castle — took a lot of courage, especially in 1917. My mother and her best friend shocked their families when they bobbed their hair around 1922. They were the first girls in town to do it. Back in 1918, my mother was working up to it gradually — and that is a story for another day. (Part 2)
She has done her best to simulate the high hair and cheek puffs of fashion illustrations — without cutting her hair.
9 responses to “Hair Styles for American Girls, World War I Era (Part 1)”
So THAT is what those containers with holes in the top are! Thank you for pointing that out. I have some somewhere, presumably from my grandmother, and could not figure it out.
The reference to eating bread crusts to make your hair curl is something I was told as a child. I’m not sure where it originates (I’m in the UK) but it was always said as a way to get children to eat up.
Thanks for confirming that is was a way to deal with “picky eaters.” When I didn’t want to eat some food or other, my father would always say,”That’ll put hair on your chest.” I ungratefully pointed out that my father ate it and he didn’t have hair on his chest.” But we both enjoyed the absurdity, too: little girls weren’t supposed to have hairy chests. Carrots were supposed to be good for eyesight; spinach built muscles….
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I like that you said that asking the hairdresser for exhortation is crucial. I didn’t know there were such countless alternatives for men’s hairstyles. My better half’s hair has gotten pretty long and somewhat wild recently, and we’re attempting to sort out a decent new hair cut for him. I’ll need to advise him to investigate barbershops he can go to so he can get some expert counsel about what might look best on him.
Since our usual hairdersser retired, my husband has been unhappy with his hair cuts. If he ever gets one he likes, I will photograph it from front, back, and sides so that he can show it to the new barbers! The one who gets his hair to look like the photo will get him as a regular customer … who tips generously!
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